In the old days, before white collar crime became so prevalent or public, the only players were the perp, the families which are seldom ever mentioned and seen only as accomplices, his or her employer, attorneys, the courts and of course the prison gate keepers. But these days given our global economy and fingertip access to information 24/7 we are continuously bombarded with the latest corporate corruption or the lone wolf who has been indicted for bribery, fraud, embezzlement or has ripped off his nearest and dearest with a bogus investment scheme. This behavior used to draw gasps of horror and cries for justice but now financial malfeasance has simply become a part of our mainstream culture. In fact a broad, booming industry has emerged as a result of this avalanche of acute fiduciary breach as there are countless journalist, bloggers, speakers, watchdog groups, think tanks and workshop leaders who have all found a niche in the arena of white collar crime. Even white collar ex-cons are jumping on the money train and with good reason as they come out of prison with nothing but the shirts on their backs and a need to find work. In many cases their families have long since moved on to more trusting relationships and these guys are left without a penny to their name. Finding employment can be next to impossible as they are just a cori check away from being unemployable. So what do they do? They step right up onto the white collar crime ladder to success with their books and speaking engagements based on their own cautionary tales. And why shouldn't they because who knows better than an inside man when it comes to internal control issues. The financial rewards can be pretty good and let's face it, they are experts in their field.
There was a group of guys in our neighborhood who used to jam together on the weekends and ended up forming a band and named it White Collar Criminals after my husband and another woman in our small suburban Boston town who had been indicted for white collar crime. Two well known figures in one small town within the same
year indicted for embezzlement. Must be an epidemic. The band will never get rich but they do get paid gigs on the weekends. Once again, white collar crime pays!
But for me there is no monetary incentive because my purpose is more altruistic. As a former white collar wife I am an advocate whose goal is to reach as many white collar wives as possible so that they don't have to suffer in silence and feel as alone and ashamed as I did. I "came out" because somebody finally had to open the door so that others could walk through. White collar wives are in hiding by the thousands not only because of their own shock and awe but because the stigma that is placed upon them is insurmountable. As the first victims of white collar crime, (and arguably the most damaged), the majority of us suffer from acute Post Traumatic Stress Disorder because the bomb that exploded in our lives sends shock waves that reach far beyond anything that is remotely manageable and the ensuing paralysis makes it nearly impossible to lead normal lives. But nobody ever speaks about us because we are in fact what I call, "Wall Street's other dirty little secret."
White collar wives and families are broken people in need of restorative care. Seven years ago I was desperate for someone or something to help guide me through the struggle of being a white collar wife. With the epidemic of greed and punishment growing every day I thought it would be easy to find a community of women who were experiencing what I was going through. Unfortunately my relentless search only turned up a fictionalized book written by a former white collar wife. Her story was more aligned with Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm than any white collar wife I had ever heard of. The only thing we had in common was that our husbands were criminals. The heroine in her book was trying to come to terms with how to keep her multi million dollar home and her kids in private school so that she could show her friends and neighbors that she was going to survive in style! I was just barely hanging on trying not be out on the streets with my young son. To add insult to injury this woman ended her fictionalized story with a triumphantly happy ending by building a cupcake empire! I had never thrown a book at a wall before but there is a first time for everything. The book made the author enough money to stand on her feet and I applaud her efforts to save herself and her children. Although I could in no way relate to the story, I reached out to the author because I had been writing my own book for a few years, (no cup cakes in my book, just a balls to the wall look inside the lives of a family on the brink of extinction), and was in need of mentoring but she never bothered to get in touch. By all appearances she wasn't really interested in any solidarity or in helping anyone but herself. Perhaps her feeling was, (as Groucho Marx and later Woody Allen so famously said), "I don't want to belong to any club that will accept people like me as a member". A year later the author passed along my name to the then deputy editor in chief of O Magazine who wanted me to participate in a docu-series" based on white collar wives. "We've got to get you solvent Lisa!" the producer said to me and I agreed that that would be a good thing but mostly I wanted to find other white collar wives and this would be a great vehicle to flush them out. I appreciated the producers enthusiasm for the project and I thought a documentary on the subject was much needed. Then I learned that docu-series did not translate into documentary, rather it meant reality television. I tried to explain to the film makers that they were going to have a heck of a time casting their show because white collar wives don't want to be seen at the grocery store let alone appear on national television as fodder for the public once a week. And we don't prance around together in designer clothes or meet for lunch at expensive restaurants or have cat fights so the ratings would be fairly dismal. Needless to say, the show never got off the ground. But if anyone ever wanted to do a serious documentary on the subject of white collar wives, I'd be the first to sign up.
After my brief brush with potential fame and fortune I realized I was going to have to build a network of survivors myself. It had taken me five years to dig out of the trenches of my own inertia but I had done the hard work. I took control of my life and then a year ago I began blogging my heart out to the universe in hopes of finding "the others". I wanted them to know that there is a safe place to come and be heard and supported. But I received nothing but silence. I kept telling myself to keep shining the light so that other survivors could see it. And finally someone made contact. Then another, and then another. Like frightened wood nymphs venturing out of the forest, white collar wives now contact me regularly and it's always the same. "Please don't use my name." "I'm not ready for your group." "Nobody can know I'm here." "You don't understand, my story is different." I begin ever so slowly bringing these damaged souls out of the shaming shadows of darkness and into the light. I teach them how to cope with their PTSD and how to accept what has happened in their lives so that they can move forward and care for themselves and their children. My only reward is seeing these women gain their voices back, take up their space in the world, (sometimes for the first time in their lives), and pay it forward to others who are trying to navigate their way through the white collar crime machine. And I encourage these women to tell their stories. We all have a hell of a story to tell and although our tales have much in common, each of us has a unique voice. As for my book, as you all know by now, I'm still plugging away because I
think it's important to have a non-fictionalized telling of what it's
really like to be a white collar wife. Spoiler alert: No happy ending at
the end of my book. And no cupcakes. Just the plain ugly truth. I may never finish it because my advocacy takes up most of my free time. There is currently a young women who is blogging her story based on her own experience of being a former white collar wife. I'll be interested to see how it goes. She's been following my blog for sometime and I'm glad she's now feeling the need to be heard as well. As I always say, build it and they will come.
I suspect that none of us white collar wives will ever get rich off the white collar crime express to success but we do hope that you will show us your compassion and help us along our way and listen to our stories. There are lessons to be learned and lives to be regained.
For all of you white collar wives who continue to hide in the shadows, please keep reaching out. I know you are afraid. I know you are suffering in silence and I know how alone you are. There is a safe and secure place where others just like you who have also been afraid have found their way to a community where there is no judgment or stigma. You will find unconditional acceptance and much needed sustenance. We have created a place of healing and we even enjoy a bit of levity from time to time. The Secret Lives of White Collar Wives is a place to call home for those of us who have long since lost our place in a world that is no longer recognizable to us. Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org for a private interview.
As for the rest of you white collar warriors, keep doing what you do to inform, deter, and help eradicate white collar crime. And please remember that everyone deserves a second chance in life.